Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Alternate Realities: Where's the Rest of Me?

Why does religion always come pouring back in, despite the best efforts of secularists to do away with it? It seems that religion is just like nature, which, as we know, can be driven out with a pitchfork, and yet will always hurry back. It will return for the same reason that the unconscious will always return in a neurotic individual who tries to repress it. You cannot cut off a part of yourself and pretend it doesnt exist. This is the source of a great deal of comedy--the tension involved in pretending to be hyper-rational while the unconscious is leaking in everywhere--like George Costanza or Basil Fawlty.

Science, as we have mentioned in the past, deals with a particular aspect of reality, the quantitative, the outwardly extended universe. Religion, on the other hand, deals precisely with other aspects of reality that are excluded by science--the qualitative and internally extended universe, those inscapes known as the soul.

Traditional cosmologies posit a three-tiered cosmos of matter, life and spirit. Science studies the lowest order, matter, and concludes that only it is ultimately real, a self-negating philosophy that appeals only to the intellectually uncurious and metaphysically blind. Instead of "in the beginning was the word," secular science has its own creation myth that says, "in the beginning was a single blind substance, mighty matter, mother of all, both visible and invisible. All things were made through it, and without it nothing was made. Out of it comes life and the light of the mind. But the material darkness fully comprehends the light, which is just an illusory side effect of whirling matter."

It is said that there is a form of madness that consists of losing everything but one's reason. What does Petey say about materialism and positivism? "If you believe that, you'll believe anything." Which is it? Do we comprehend matter? Or does matter comprehend us? Or does matter comprehend itself? If so, how? That's pretty impressive for mere matter. Can I get some?

In order to study the physical universe, western science drew the distinction between res cogitans and res extensa--between matter and mind. So successful was the enterprise that it eventually reified this methodological distinction into a metaphysical absolute, and then concluded that only the material was ultimately real. This has led to a host of unnecessary philosophical conundrums since then. To paraphrase Whitehead, the universe was reduced on one side to conjecture, the other side to a dream.

But if reality is nothing else, it is One. It is One prior to our bifurcation of it into subject and object, and it will always be One. We can throw out the Oneness with a ptichfork, but it will always rush back in through the walls, up through the floor boards, and down from the ceiling. In other words, the wholeness of the cosmos is ontologically prior to anything else we can say about it. In fact, it is precisely because of its wholeness that we can say anything about it at all. In the miracle of knowing, subject and object become one, but the oneness of matter and mind undergirds this process. In reality there is just the one world that knows itself in the act of knowledge.

When science sets its compass on the face of the deep, the depth disappears. Science tries to confine the universe to its own derivative categories of space, time and motion, but the real uncontainable universe always returns. Life--much less consciousness--will never be reduced to physics. In fact, physics will never be reduced to physics either. This is the real lesson of the quantum world, which leaks like water through any attempt describe what occurs there with the porous equations of linear reason.

Although I am sympathetic to the efforts of intelligent design theorists, ultimately they are looking for God in all the wrong places. Of course the universe is intelligently designed. God has always been self-evident to uncorrupted natural reason. Everywhere you look you will find irreducible information, complexity, and beauty betraying the light of the divine mind. So what? You can study a human brain, but it will tell you nothing about the consciousness of the person to whom the brain belongs--it is not as if you can "know" someone by looking at a CT scan of their skull. You will know a brain, not a person. Knowledge of a person is "inside information"--as is knowledge of God. But you have to be an insider to know that.

There is another kind of truth in the universe that can only be known from the inside, from the within. This within operates along very different lines from the without, and cannot be comprehended by applying the same principles used by science. Religions are very special languages that we employ in order to talk about, understand, and deepen our experience of the greater within of the cosmos.

If we try to talk about this within using the methods and language of science, we will get nowhere. For example, eternity cannot be discussed by reducing it to something within time. If we are going to discuss eternity at all--one of the prime characteristics of God--then we will have to use language in a very special way so as to convey the feeling without reducing it to something merely rational and temporal.

Look at it this way. We live on the shoreline between two worlds, one extending infinitely within, the other extending infinitely without. But actually, we are more like an island surrounded on all sides by the watery deep. Science, you might say, studies the island. The non-dual mystic dives into the ocean and disappears into oneness. But religion plays along the shoreline where waves of the infinite are constantly lapping onto the conscious shore. Religions are ways of talking about what it is like to live on that shoreline between the finite and infinite--which is where we live anyway, crucified, so to speak, on the cross of vertical and horizontal energies.

It is here that we find the meta-cosmic and trans-historical source of time, being and self. As best as I can describe it visually, the cosmos is somewhat like a Klein bottle, which has an inside and an outside but only one surface. However, this Klein bottle is in the shape of a toroid, similar to a donut, except that the hole in the middle is our solid world, while the donut is a whirling process that tosses up temporary forms that arise and pass away, like so many grains of sand on the shore. As such, the conventional world of the senses looks real and solid, but it really is an empty hole. The real action is taking place where the hole meets the Whole and partakes something of its abiding reality.

Or as one wag put it:

In the deep there is a greater deep, in the heights a greater height. Sooner shall man arrive at the borders of infinity than at the fulness of his own being. For that being is infinity, is God. --Sri Aurobindo


Hey, what's spinning on Petey's bong water stained turntable today? Mmmmm, vintage garage psychedelia. Melts in your brain, not on your wrist.


Anonymous said...

thank you but

do you think intelligent design should be taught in a class designated as

comparative religion
I think that is what the intelligent design debate is really about. Intelligent design is already taught in classes with almost if not allof the above except the first label. Since, as you note science is a discipline with a different methodology and subeject of inquiry than the subject of your (and similar) writings, shouldn't it stay that way ?

Gagdad Bob said...

I think local school boards should be able to make the decision to teach anything they want, and that parents should be given the choice of where they want to send their children to school.

Isn't liberty awful?

jwm said...

I got into the 'intelligent design/is there a God?' argument with a fellow on LGF a few months back. Those exchanges seldom get anywhere, but they can be fun. Part of that fun comes, I suspect, because both parties always trundle out their very best arguments for their respective sides, fire away with both barrels, and both parties walk away thinking, "I sure kicked his butt.
The parting shot from the guy I was arguing with was one I'll bet you never heard before:
You just believe in God because you're terrified of dying and facing the Great Nothing. Man invented God, and religions, and holds on to the idea of life after death the same way that a child holds on to a teddy bear to keep away the fear of the dark.

To me the only germ of truth in his argument was that we do hold on very dearly to the hope of life after death. That's the only Alternate Reality that matters. And after giving the matter great amounts of thought, I come to the conclusion that regardless of what Eastern sages describe as some discorporate union with the infinite Godhead, what we all really hope for is that Heaven that is something less than Earth. You know- It's just like this world only without... fill in the blank here...
I was in adult school a while back taking some computer classes. In one of my classes there was a young guy- early to mid twenties- trying to learn Powerpoint. He had cerebral palsy. He was confined to a wheelchair, could barely speak... I'm sure you have all seen this. I'll engage in some unapologetic projection here.
I imagine the heaven where that kid gets out of the chair, walks down to the sand, waxes up a surfboard, and paddles out. Where he asks the hottest girl at the party to dance, and she says yes. Where he gets all the stuff that he was denied in this life. It seems only just.
Maybe the point here is that my particular brain doesn't stretch far enough to encompass a satisfactory view of the afterlife except on the terms I know life here. Who knows what dreams may come.

(great line, jwm)


primal_john said...

Bob -
Re your Aurobindo "quote of the day" from the side bar.
Some might protest that the "path of the spiritual life" in reality functions as a defense against of the operation of one's mind parasites. What sayest thou?

Gagdad Bob said...

"Some might protest that the path of the spiritual life in reality functions as a defense against of the operation of one's mind parasites."

Sometimes it does, as in Islam. But just as often secular life is a defense against spirit. Just as there are defense mechanisms that shield us from the lower vertical, there are defense mechanisms that shield us from the higher--for example, pride, self-sufficiency, hubris, vanity, gluttony, envy, sloth, etc. "Ego" is the word most traditions use as a catch all to describe our defense against the higher vertical.

Gagdad Bob said...

By the way, the Garden of Eden story, among other things, is about our defense against the higher. Pride and hubris lead to exile, while humility and surrender are the way back in. But of course, you first have to get past that baby with the flaming sword, symbolizing infantile mind parasites.

Anonymous said...

Do you think private (and even public) universities should be free to reject applications from students whose biology classes presented intelligent design as "the other side of the debate" vs evolution and just as a legitimate an analysis.

They would reject the application on the basis that their curriculim in science did not meet their criteria for college preparatory work.

Just like their policy of rejecting applications of students that didn't take algebra or their requirement of 3 years of a foreign language. Or took 'the history of muslims in american" instead of a more comprehensive american history curriculum.

liberty is great when people take responsibility for the consequence of their actions

who, me? said...

"pretending to be hyper-rational while the unconscious is leaking in everywhere," the George Constanza and Basil Fawlty references explain why there is so much humor for Gagdad to harvest from the Left, Islamism, etc. Just let us survive long enough to get the last laugh.

I especially like the Seinfeld interchanges with Big Box religion, the one where George tries to marry into Orthodoxy, where Elaine and her boyfriend go to a priest to find out if she's bound for hell, and the rabbi whom Elaine discoveres to be severely confidentiality-impaired.

Nothing is funnier than the implicit claim vs the reality.

And, does the poor troll have some kind of intellectual tic? He can take heart. In Heaven he'll be free of all that, and can dance at the prom.

Gagdad Bob said...

Anonymous Troll With a Thousand Names Whose Rudimentary Intelligence Leaks From Every Post--

Yes, the constitution allows people to be stupid. You should be happy about that. After all, it's why you're still legal.

stupid said...

am i correct to conclude that as a school board member you would vote in favor of id as part of a biology curriculum ?

i guess you would also consider voting otherwise "stupid"

jwm said...

That was a stupid question.


But a straight line like that is like a five dollar bill on the sidewalk. I couldn't help myself.

I read a story a long time ago about a troll who lived under a bridge. Maybe this is the same bridge.


LiquidLifeHacker said...

"Pride and hubris lead to exile, while humility and surrender are the way back in"

I know for me that the closest I feel to my maker is when I am humble or knocked onto my knees. Yes I do feel and see God through nature and through the love around me via friends and family, but it's when I am in that humble state whether I have prepared my heart for it myself or when it has been put upon me, is where I see truth most clearly. Its the most reaching stretch in my soul I guess and I find when I am repenting for things I have done wrong that I have to go through being humble to ever feel like I can move past it, but there are many other things in life that humble us besides wrestling with out own sins.

The other day I saw a photo that just brought me instantly to tears. I mean I was so shaken and I was praying in response to it without even realising it because the image moved me so strongly. We get humbled alot in this world in many different ways. It's odd sometimes because I can cry at at the drop of hat over an emotional commercial and yet be cold faced emotionless over some sappy movie. It's amazing what touches us and moves each of us.

I wanted to ask you can one stay in a humble state? How does one keep themselves humble in all things? Any tips on that?

Gagdad Bob said...

I don't think of humility so much as the end point but the practice itself. "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." Through the emptiness of humilty we make ourselves capable of receiving, of being filled. Perhaps the ultimate example of this is Jesus' self-emptying, or kenosis, represented by the cross.

The practice of humility is closely linked to gratitude, and soon becomes its own reward. "Thou shalt not covet" is not just a proscription but a blessing. The Tao also says something to the effect that "if you make yourself empty, you will become full."

Likewise, if you're narcissistically full of yourself, you're most probably pretty empty.

Bro. Bartleby said...

Perhaps scientists are actually all clones, clones that are doing our drudge work for us. While we contemplate our Maker, the clones busy themselves with discovering and categorizing God's creations, the clones not knowing why they do this, but we, the created, are thankful to them for all the effort they put into the task. And we are forever amazed and dazzled when the discoveries of the clones are handed to us, yet are a bit saddened that the clones think that we are dazzled about them, when in fact we are dazzled by God's creations.

Gagdad Bob said...


You've got it. It actually is a caste thing, if you want to know the truth. They are the cognitive worker bees toiling away at their servile arts. That's okay. There's dignity in all work.

I am reminded of a remark by the great philosopher Bo Diddley: "Why would I do what you do? I got you doin' it for me."

D. Vision said...

You're right, all atheists are unconscious boobs incapable of contemplating self. They are incapable of creative energy and cannot experience joy or wonder. They're mechanical, unfeeling, soulless voids.

I'd laugh if I thought you weren't serious, but given your "caste" comment, it's beyond that. You're into a whole new realm of disconnected eliteness that doesn't draw people towards you or you closer to enlightenment. You want to be god so bad you'll settle for dominion over atheists.

Gagdad Bob said...

Please. Don't be a drama queen. Atheism is nothing more or less than an honest confession of ignorance of the higher planes of existence. I respect that. It is what it is--like color blindness. I hardly blame the color blind person for being unable to see blue. If you read some sort of hostility into that, that's simply your projection.

jwm said...

Maybe off topic, maybe not.
I never really made a good atheist, although I'll confess I tried it for a while when I was much younger. If surfing, and twelve step cured me of anything it was atheism. On the other hand, I've never been able to be an actual "believer" in Christianity, or any other religion either. There is still that barrier.
When I was at Cal State in '84 there used to be a guy from some Atheists United group who would set up a booth on the main quad from time to time. I wasn't an atheist, but I used to stop and talk to him. He was a nice guy, and kinda' fun to talk to.
Sorry to say, a lot of the campus Christians didn't appreciate his company. It was not uncommon to see three or four guys with bibles hanging around and just yelling at this sad atheist. They would hassle people who came around his booth, and generally made his life unpleasant.
I no longer take a few tasteless individuals to represent the whole of Christians, or religious people. Nonetheless, that image of religion: that finger in your face 'accept Jesus or go to hell' religion as ultimatum, is hard to shake. And that kindy of queazy gut feeling bad taste that it leaves is very hard to overcome. I am trying; I have made some progress, but it has actually taken a real effort. I think it's a barrier for a lot of people.


Gagdad Bob said...


You make an important point. I will try to address it soon. Maybe even tomorrow. it's difficult to see how a thoughtful modern person wouldn't have the barrier you describe.

Bottom line: just because Barry Manilow exists, you mustn't let that spoil music for you.

Don't tell anyone I said this, but religion is only for very very stupid and very intelligent people. The vast intellectual proletariat mass of mankind has no use for it.

dilys said...

As to the caste thing. I read somewhere, and it comports with my experience, that each calling has a blindness associated with it, or one couldn't perform its duties. I know lawyers and judges best, and the wisest and kindest have a stupidity curtain that must drop when, for instance, a non-linear analysis would be called for. That's not to be condemned, but it is a kind of horizontal caste matter.

And as to the very intelligent / very stupid, I always find it touching in the Bros. Karamazov when Ivan's fantasized devil speaks nostalgicly of how contented he would be to be a babushka'd merchant's wife lighting a candle in the church. There really is a semi-smart state that gets impotently stuck on stupid when applied to religious practice, and is consigned to the bare retreat of a cold and lonely faux superiority.

LiquidLifeHacker said...

I don't know...I think it really stems from the ability to be humble...because if you cannot bring yourself to the humble spot...then you can't "launch" into any true path of the real meaning of things and soooooo many people that I have known, both very well educated and some not so much that seem to have the biggest problem with getting spiritual are those that can't get to the "humble" part of things. So I guess if that has something to do with the caste thingy well ok...but its still a choice to do would be a caste by choice for sure or a handicap of sorts because once anyone gets humbled you have no way to go but up...ya might struggle with the uncomfortable part of left or right...but you won't be able to nudge or wiggle until you're honest with yourself and you look UP with the right mindset of your heart.

Chip said...

Religion, psychology, politics...

How about that [sports team]?